One of the most hotly debated topics in our society is the death penalty. A lot of people have expressed interest in this topic. As such, we have taken some time to break down capital punishment in North Carolina.
North Carolina is one of 31 states with a death penalty. As of 2015, there were approximately 150 men and women on death row. However, due to legal challenges, no executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006. More than 1,000 people have been sent to North Carolina’s death row since 1910. According to http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/capital-punishment/ , North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for the use of capital punishment.
Capital punishment in North Carolina is governed by North Carolina General Code § 15A-2000.
Method of Execution
Lethal injection is the only legal method of exaction in the state of North Carolina. However, one should note that hanging and electrocution are still legal methods of execution in other states, meaning that the US Supreme Court has not yet found that those methods violate the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment (read more about the Eight Amendment here.)
What crimes are eligible for capital punishment?
In North Carolina, first-degree murder is the only crime punishable by death. And there must be a finding of an aggravating factor, which we will discuss below.
Who decides whether or not to impose capital punishment in North Carolina?
The prosecution decides whether or not to move forward with the death penalty and the jurors vote whether or not to recommend capital punishment. If the prosecution decides to move forward with the death penalty, a jury will decide the fate of the defendant. If the defendant is found guilty and the prosecution moves forward with the death penalty, twelve jurors must unanimously vote in favor of capital punishment.
If there is a hung jury, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is imposed. There will not be a re-trial with regard to the death penalty phase. Also note that the judgment of conviction and sentence of death shall be subject to automatic review by the Supreme Court of North Carolina.
The jurors will consider aggravating and mitigating factors and balance the two. We discuss the aggravating factors below. In order for jurors to vote in favor of recommending a death sentence the following should be true:
- The statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances which the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt; and
- That the statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances found by the jury are sufficiently substantial to call for the imposition of the death penalty; and,
- That the mitigating circumstance or circumstances are insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstance or circumstances found.
The aggravating factors to consider are as follows:
- The capital felony was committed by a person lawfully incarcerated.
- The defendant had been previously convicted of another capital offense.
- The defendant had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person or had been previously adjudicated delinquent in a juvenile proceeding for committing an offense that would be a Class A, B1, B2, C, D, or E felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person if the offense had been committed by an adult.
- The capital felony was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from custody.
- The capital felony was committed while the defendant was engaged, or was an aider or abettor, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit, any homicide, robbery, rape or a sex offense, arson, burglary, kidnapping, or aircraft piracy or the unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb
- The capital felony was committed for pecuniary gain.
- The capital felony was committed to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of laws.
- The capital felony was committed against a law-enforcement officer, employee of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice of the Department of Public Safety, jailer, fireman, judge or justice, former judge or justice, prosecutor or former prosecutor, juror or former juror, or witness or former witness against the defendant, while engaged in the performance of his official duties or because of the exercise of his official duty.
- The capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.
- The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person by means of a weapon or device which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person.
- The murder for which the defendant stands convicted was part of a course of conduct in which the defendant engaged and which included the commission by the defendant of other crimes of violence against another person or persons.
If you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina or South Carolina, you should contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your options. Gilles Law has criminal defense lawyers licensed in both North Carolina and South Carolina, at both the state and federal level.